nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 6, 2005
The concept underlying Massholia, a new musical by Nathan Phillips, Joe Schiappa, and Brett Warwick, is that after the 2004 election the people of Massachusetts decided to secede from the Union and create their own country, with John Kerry as president. A potentially clever idea.
The actual story that Phillips, Schiappa, and Warwick have created is, alas, not so clever. It concerns a goofy but likeable young slacker named Robbie Cordeiro, a high school student in the newly-named Massholia City (Boston). One day he meets pretty and competent Jen Leonard on a tour bus, with whom he comes instantly infatuated, much to the consternation of his longtime pal, Juanita Pedro Marquis Sanchez O'Donald, a politically active and very serious student who is involved with Native American issues—especially the Pilgrims' alleged removal of the Magical Turkey, which supposedly still lurks in some Massholian forest. Robbie and Jen also encounter John Kerry, Jr., who accidentally drops a roll of microfilm containing details about his secret plan to blow up Fenway Park at the next Yankees/Red Sox game using a baseball filled with lethal cranberry gas. Kerry decides that Robbie will be the stooge who will throw out said baseball. He also leads Jen, a very ambitious budding journalist, to believe that he wants to date her, when all he really wants is to get back the incriminating microfilm. Also involved in the very complicated plot are George Steinbrenner, Barney Frank (who marries someone named Sergio Pombo in a gay wedding ceremony), Robbie's baseball-loving father, and a contemporary Pilgrim named Standish who runs some sort of slave labor camp in a cranberry bog.
I have to admit that I never quite sorted all of the details and complications out; suffice to say that Kerry does not get away with his fiendish scheme and that Robbie comes to understand that Juanita, not Jen, is the right girl for him.
The storyline allows for a number of in-jokes that might be funny to Bostonians (not being one, I can't tell for sure), as well as a lot of would-be satire that almost never lands properly. The gay marriage plot detour, for example, feels nearly homophobic; the central conflict, which posits Kerry's son as a terrorist willing to murder tens of thousands of civilians in order to further his aims to take over America, is in questionable taste at best. Indeed, I wondered as the show wore on and took more and more potshots at traditional liberal causes whether Phillips, Schiappa, and Warwick might actually be agents from the Other Side.
Massholia's a musical, and it's chockfull of musical numbers, most of them attempts at parody in the Urinetown vein, none of them particularly successful. Warwick does have a way with a rock tune and occasionally comes up with some clever lyrics; but a lot of the song ideas feel fairly pedestrian—there's one called "Hand Job Palace," performed by a bunch of horny students in the stadium bleachers, for example. Katie Workum's choreography sabotages just about all of them by setting complicated dance moves to virtually every note of every song; this is bad idea, tiring the performers and the audience with manic activity long before any of the songs are over with.
Workum's work suggests inexperience in the medium (though the program lists fairly numerous credits), and in fact that seems to be the main problem with Massholia: the creative team seem to be going for another Urinetown but do not seem to know much about how a musical works. Let me add that I have great respect for writers Phillips and Schiappa and director Kevin Scott, having seen many of their excellent comedy shows in the past. But the form seems to have somehow defeated them here.
A few members of the company manage to shine despite the sub-par material, notably Kimmy Gatewood, who is very funny and possesses real presence as Juanita, and Phillips himself, who is understatedly charming as the cute-but-dopey Robbie; he also seems to be a good dancer.